When I was growing up in country New Zealand, we mowed our own lawns (that was what kids were for), cooked our dinner, made our clothes, cleaned our houses, cared for our babies until they went to kindergarten or even school in fact, did numerous chores that today we can outsource. I'm not saying this was better self-sufficiency has its merits, but women bore the brunt of it.

Gradually, outsourcing has freed us to focus on our work and things we want to do, such as relaxing at the end of the day. The Ruthven Institute reportedly estimated we spend more than $500 billion in a financial year outsourcing household activities, with the average household paying for everything from oven cleaning to painting the spare room.

Sites such as Airtasker and ServiceSeeking built their business models on this, as have food delivery services such as Uber Eats. Don't feel like doing something? There's an app for that.

Now, though, lockdowns and social distancing mean that, aside from the food delivery, many services are denied us. It may be fun to bake sourdough or plant tomatoes, but we also face doing tasks we don't want to do, or may not even be capable of.

Many who performed those tasks for us, gig economy workers with insecure employment, few rights, no leave and little bargaining power, have been left high and dry. In her introduction to the state government's Report of the Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce, released in July, chair Natalie James wrote of a world changed by pandemic: "These events provide the ultimate demonstration of what it means to work 'on-demand'. 'Demand' has been suddenly and unexpectedly curtailed In times of economic downturn, it is 'on-demand' workers: casual employees and self-employed 'independent contractors'; who feel the impact first and fast. They are the first to be 'let go'."

An estimated 1 million Australians, almost 250,000 Victorians, work in the gig economy. As restrictions ease, they will return. Some will have faced and may still be facing dire financial situations. We will welcome them with open arms, hopefully with a new appreciation for what they do. But let's hope that this is not accompanied by a financial race to the bottom, as those desperate for work so many more than when this began bid against each other for ever lower rates to win the work.

When the report was released, James told The Age: "What we have is a large number of people in need of income, looking for work in a labour market which has now become even more competitive." When restrictions end, it's important that we let those who do the chores we don't want to do know how much we missed and appreciate them, but also that we put our money where our mouths are.

Sue Green is a Melbourne journalist and writer.

See the original post here:
Lockdown has shone a light on how much we rely on others - Sydney Morning Herald

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